Ukraine sought more help from the West on Friday, pleading for faster deliveries of weapons to hold off better-armed Russian forces and for humanitarian support to combat outbreaks of deadly diseases.
In southern Ukraine, the mayor of the port city of Mariupol — reduced to ruins by a Russian siege — said sanitation systems were broken and corpses had been left to rot in the streets, resulting in “an outbreak of dysentery and cholera.”
“The war which took over 20,000 residents … unfortunately, with these infection outbreaks, will claim thousands more Mariupolites,” Mayor Vadym Boychenko told national television.
He called on the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to work on setting up a humanitarian corridor to allow the remaining residents to leave the city, which is now under Russian control.
In a snapshot of the war’s wider impact, the UN’s food agency said reduced exports of wheat and other food commodities from Ukraine and Russia could inflict chronic hunger on up to 19 million more people globally over the next year.
Further heavy fighting was reported in Severodonetsk, the small city that has become the focus of Russia’s advance in eastern Ukraine and one of the bloodiest flashpoints in a war well into its fourth month.
Russia is hoping to capture the full territory of eastern Luhansk province, which it demands Ukraine cede to separatists along with neighbouring Donetsk — an area known as the Donbas where it has backed a revolt by separatist proxies since 2014.
To that end, the Kremlin has concentrated its forces into a battle for Severodonetsk.
Ukrainian troops have largely pulled out of the city’s residential areas but have not yielded their foothold on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets river. Russian forces are also pushing from the north and south to try to encircle the Ukrainians, but so far have made limited progress.
Both sides say they have inflicted massive casualties in the battle for the city.
Calls for Western support, arms
In a video speech Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the country to be incorporated as a part of the West, with binding guarantees for its protection.
Asking the EU to accept Ukraine as a membership candidate, he told a conference in Copenhagen: “The European Union can take a historic step that will prove that words about the people of Ukraine belonging to the European family are not just words.”
The war in the east, where Russia is focusing its attentions, is now primarily an artillery battle in which Kyiv is severely outgunned, Ukrainian officials say.
That means the tide of events could be turned only if the West fulfils promises to send more and better weaponry, including rocket systems that Washington and others have promised.
“This is an artillery war now,” Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy head of military intelligence, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
“Everything now depends on what (the West) gives us. Ukraine has one artillery piece to 10 to 15 Russian artillery pieces.”
Germany is among the largest suppliers of weapons since Russia invaded, but has been criticized for its slowness in supplying the heavy weaponry Kyiv says it needs. German officials said they planned to revise rules on arms exports to make it easier to arm democracies like Ukraine, Der Spiegel reported on Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he terms the “special military operation” in Ukraine in February, saying his aim was to disarm and “denazify” Russia’s neighbour. Kyiv and its allies call it an unprovoked war of aggression to capture territory.
Ukraine officials said that a speech delivered on Thursday by Putin — who drew a parallel between what he portrayed as a new quest to win back Russian lands and the historic achievements of Tsar Peter the Great — proved that Moscow’s aim was conquest.
“Putin’s confession of land seizures and comparing himself with Peter the Great prove: there was no ‘conflict,’ only the country’s bloody seizure under contrived pretexts of people’s genocide,” tweeted Zelensky aide Mykhailo Podolyak.